Why did you come to Willamette—and why major in English?

In high school at 'Iolani School, we were taught how to write. We wrote monologues, short fiction, personal narratives, and poetry. We heavily annotated our texts to interact with the characters we met, and we were trained in extemporaneous speaking and had opportunities to perform. Through this process, everything came alive, and I gained a love for the English language. During my senior year, although I was really jazzed about writing, I didn't know if I really wanted to major in English; all I really knew was that I wanted to teach...something. My participation in student government, Boy Scouts, and the performing arts made me love working with others for the betterment of a cause. I felt that Willamette would be a good fit for me because of its reputation for academic rigor in the Liberal Arts, its direct relationship with Tokyo International University of America (TIUA), and its motto, "Non nobis solum nati sumus—Not unto ourselves alone are we born." Reaffirmed by my classes and meetings with the professors in Willamette's English Department, I decided I wanted to major in English because of my love for learning from the stories of others' experiences.

What campus activities are you involved in?

For the past two years, I was President of Japan Studies Student Leaders (JSSL)—an organization dedicated to building lasting friendships between Willamette's student body and the 120 study-abroad students in TIUA's American Studies Program (ASP). With the members of JSSL, I helped to program multicultural events, activities, and excursions to broaden the worldviews of both groups of students and learn about each other's cultural traditions. Since my freshman year, I have also been president of the Willamette Taiko Club, where I teach ASP and Willamette students the history and skill required to play this Japanese drum. The Taiko Club is interesting because it focuses on a reciprocal teaching method: some of the ASP students who played taiko in Japan teach Willamette students pieces they learned, and I teach taiko pieces traditionally taught at Willamette. Both clubs keep me active and help me become better and more refined in my leadership abilities, organizational skills, and interpersonal relationships—undoubtedly a benefit to my career goal of teaching high school English.

Additionally, I've been involved as the Social Chair of the Hawaii Club and as head of the Luau's Food Committee. This past summer, we made it a point to reach out to the forty incoming students from Hawaii and, with the help of a few of my Oregonian friends, we compiled a booklet of tips, resources, and suggestions that we wish we knew as incoming freshmen. We also revamped the annual Hawaii Club Summer Picnic where we brought eighty people together to talk and answer questions about the transition from high school Hawaii life to life at Willamette.

You spent this last summer (2014) teaching at the 'Iolani School, right? What was that like for you?

For three summers I worked in the 'Iolani Performing Arts Department as an Office Assistant and Instrument Repair Tech, and I spent afternoons coaching the 'Iolani School marching band. In addition to coaching this past summer, I had the privilege of teaching my own five-week summer school class, Read, Write, Create!, which focused on reading and writing for 6th to 8th grade students of any reading level. I had students write short assignments that covered a variety of writing styles and points of view, and I had them create literature reviews and artistic projects, most of which were displayed on the website we created as a class. At the outset, I was extremely nervous because it was my first time teaching a formal class. However, after consultation with many of my middle and high school teachers, I was able to solidify my syllabus, classroom management procedures, and class rules. The hardest part of being a new teacher was balancing the gamut of personalities and student demographics with the variety of reading levels, but everything about it was a positive learning experience for me. I know I have a calling to teach—it's addicting. To see students' faces light up when they reach their "Ah ha!" moment is one of the most rewarding feelings I've ever experienced.

You're an Eagle Scout! Tell me more!

I think I discovered my love for teaching others through Scouting. I joined the Boy Scouts of America as a Cub Scout, earned the Arrow of Light award in the sixth grade, and continued on. I served as Senior Patrol Leader for three terms and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster for a year. I taught lessons every other week about various topics involving skills learning and teamwork, did my research, wrote my lesson plans, and oversaw other experienced scouts who assisted me in carrying out some lessons. Through the years in Scouting, I had a chance to build my leadership capabilities, public speaking skills, and organizational methods, and I was honored to earn the Boy Scouts of America's highest rank.

You completed your senior thesis a year early—as a junior. What did you write about?

I completed my senior thesis in Professor Perez's Senior Seminar on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I was ecstatic that I could explore a piece of modern literature that was not written by a canonical author. In my paper "Impossible Identity: An Analysis of Queer Existence within the Dominican Diaspora in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," I argued that because Oscar is a collection of numerous characteristics that are not accepted by either Dominican or American ideals (he is un-masculine, overweight, and a virgin), he is culturally squeezed out of existence. It was a daunting challenge to be in a class full of seniors and to be writing the longest paper I've ever written, but the entire class was extremely welcoming and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What's the future got in store for you?

I've always lived by the Japanese proverb of "okagesama de," or "I am what I am because of you." This expresses how someone is not great solely because of his or her own accomplishments but because of his or her efforts combined with all the lessons, teachings, and the hard work ethic of those who came before. As my boss this past summer said, "You are the product of all the great teachers you have passed through, and every word you speak is an ode to teachers past." Through enrolling in the University of Oregon's Graduate School of Education, I hope to become a teacher who can motivate and inspire students to always do their very best.

Matthew Tom, an English major at Willamette
Willamette University


900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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